Feminism and music festivals

Florence Welch, Glastonbury headliner

It’s festival season and this summer is proving a big one for women in music. Stage left is Taylor Swift (pictured on home page), challenging huge multi-national streaming companies and winning. Stage right is Florence Welch (pictured above) and her Machine, taking on Glastonbury as substitute headliner and absolutely knocking it out of the park. And somewhere above the audience there’s a giant flag depicting Kim Kardashian’s infamous sex tape.

Two steps forward, one step back…

Feminists! It’s now okay to love Taylor Swift

Singer-songwriter Swift has been championed as one of the most powerful women in entertainment and has sold 40 million albums – but she’s usually in the headlines for her dating life instead. Despite this glaring prejudice, Swift was previously reluctant to identify with the feminist cause[1], making her a divisive figure. Three years on, the 25 year old is now out of the feminist closet and proud, drawing attention to the sexism of those who deride her for writing about ex-boyfriends.

She’s also taking on multi-national streaming companies. First Spotify[2], and thenshe withdrew her album 1989 from Apple Music, defending artists’ rights to royalties during the new service’s three-month free trial period[3].

Swift followed this brave act of defiance against the world’s biggest company with a performance in front of 65,000 fans at British Summer Time Hyde Park that received widespread critical acclaim.

Understudies but not to be underestimated

Specialists in spectacle Florence and the Machine also put on a powerful set at Glastonbury. The London-born indie rock band proved to be perfect for the iconic main stage which lends itself well to theatrics, and Welch and co. pumped them out for the Friday night crowd – like a well-oiled Machine, prompting rave reviews from critics.

Put women on line-ups, not flags

Florence and the Machine’s triumph at Europe’s biggest festival is a victory for women in music, but if Foo Fighters lead Dave Grohl hadn’t broken his leg, there would have been no females in the top spots of Glastonbury this year. There is a shortage of female performers at festivals of all genres, as the Guardian pointed out, and very few of them are the ones written in big letters.

The misogyny gets worse. One Glastonbury audience member put time, effort and money into shaming a woman for performing a very different kind of act – a woman who isn’t even in the music industry herself, just married into it.

An explicit flag  with an image of reality TV star Kim Kardashian, from a leaked sex tape she made in 2003 with an ex boyfriend, was brandished during husband Kanye West’s Saturday night performance. The ‘misogynistic’ and ‘repugnant’ flag essentially attempts to disgrace Kardashian for having dared to have a sexual partner outside of marriage.

Shake It Off/Shake It Out

Taylor Swift and Florence and the Machine showed that women can achieve great success within the male-dominated music industry. We’ve come a long way but the battle is far from won.

To win it we must encourage young girls and women to pursue their talents. Hopefully, Swift’s defence of developing artists against profiteering companies will help emerging female musicians win recognition and secure the top spots in more festival line-ups.

(Photo credit:Tom Beard Toast Press)









[1] Asked in 2012 if she considered herself a feminist, Swift replied “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls”.

[2] Online streaming services give subscribers access to millions of songs. Swift criticised Spotify for paying artists less than $0.01 per song play, and eventually pulled her entire back catalogue from the site.

[3] And not, she stresses, for the sake of her own wallet. See her blog post http://taylorswift.tumblr.com/post/122071902085/to-apple-love-taylor

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Hannah Taaffe
Hannah Taaffe is a feminist, activist and a student (in that order) studying French and Italian at University College London